The ostensible dichotomy -- and hierarchy -- between the skills of a humanist and those of an engineer never held water. We're in an especially ripe age for humanities bashing these days, as the salvation of big data and slick code is bandied about the land.
Alas, it has ever been thus. C.P. Snow's book The Two Cultures, which is about exactly this tension, is now more than 50 years old.
One must wonder why storytelling as a means of learning and sharing knowledge gets such short shrift. After all we are all narrators.
My best guess is that the "hard" sciences -- all those test tubes and beakers, all that code -- are seductive because they over-promise. We're always just one experiment or theorem away from the promised land.
Humanists call this for what it is: hubris.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking to understand the natural world, devising innovations to help people live longer and more productive lives, writing elegant code, or building perfectly suspended bridges. Go for it, scientists and engineers. Just don't be so self-righteous.
Frederic Filloux is out with a tough Monday Note this week about all of the missed opportunities that established media organizations have failed to seize in the digital age. He uses the metaphor of two planes on a runway -- one overly controlled and stifled, the other sleekly designed and ready for takeoff. The former is the legacy media, doomed to exist in a world of low risk/low reward. The latter is the start-up culture epitomized by Facebook (back in the day) and app designers, who saw the web as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Guess who's thriving now? And guess who's on "deathwatch?"
I find myself in complete agreement with Filloux, but annoyed by his hectoring tone. One imagines an angry man astride a podium, shaking his fists while preaching to people who already agree with him. (Filloux says in the piece that many people from established media organization have told him in confidence they agree with him too -- I don't have any reason to doubt Filloux's word, but without quotes on the record it is hard to take this as gospel truth.) This is not a way to bring people along to a new understanding, it feels more like kicking someone who is already down.
Filloux recognizes the challenges of his tone, and attempts to end on a "hopeful note" although his last paragraph is a throwaway effort. He is much more detailed and precise in his critiques of flaws than in his vague statements about how the media can build average revenue per user.
I know how Filloux feels -- when you can see the future coming from years away, and passionately educate people who choose to completely ignore you, patience wears thin. One imagines he's endured many difficult consultations with benighted news executives, people so tethered to the glories of print that they can imagine no other way to share the news. Nonetheless, wielding a cudgel is not a good look.
When I was a kid my favorite sitcom was M.A.S.H. The clear and compelling anti-war message, as revealed through Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce, spoke to my need for clarity and justice.
One show that was not in my rotation back then was The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I knew that it was revolutionary in having a single working woman as the focus, but by the early 90s this was less noteworthy. But I decided to see what all the fuss was about, tuning into some episodes on Nick at Nite.
Ehh. The set seemed small, and Ted Baxter was ridiculous.
A few years ago I decided to revisit both M.A.S.H and MTM, and how times had changed.
Now M.A.S.H seemed preachy, high strung, predictable. Hawkeye's certainty about almost everything is irritating, not refreshing.
Mary Tyler Moore, on the other hand, contains depth and nuance. Mary moves from a studio apartment to a high rise and becomes the main producer of the news. Ted and Georgette get married. Lou gets divorced and starts to date again. Rhoda moves back to New York, Phyllis off to San Francisco. Murray and Marie adopt a son, from Vietnam. Sue Ann Nivens is fragile beneath all those cutting remarks.
These characters actually developed over the 7 seasons of the show, and the writing only got better as it went along. That is a rare feat.
This past weekend I had the pleasure to watch Notes on Blindness at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
This brilliant documentary describes the intellectual and emotional journey of English theologian John Hull.
Hull became permanently blind (after a lifetime of vision problems) in mid-life. Hull lived to be 80 years old, passing away in 2015. He was completely blind for more than 30 years of his life.
At first Hull was angry, wanting to fight back against blindness. Over the years he came to terms with this unchangeable fact, and honed his mental and emotional resources accordingly. He was a deeply literate and humane man, and used both those attributes to fashion a rich life despite -- no, because of -- his blindness. His book Touching the Rockrecords his "notes on blindness," on which the film is based.
One suspects that as a theologian Hull knew the Serenity Prayer, although he does not quote it in the film.
Serenity to accept what we cannot change/Courage to change the things we can/Wisdom to know the difference. It's all here.